Editor’s note: A federal judge has struck down two Trump administration rules designed to drastically curtail the number of visas issued each year to skilled foreign workers in the latest battle over the issue. Steve Rao is a Council Member and Former Mayor Pro Tem for the Town of Morrisville and a Board Member of the New American Economy,  a bi-partisan coalition of Mayors and Business Leaders, Committed to Comprehensive Immigration reform. This organization compiles research from economists to reveal the economic impact of immigration in the United States and in NC among a number of industries.  He also serves as Of Counsel to State Federal Strategies, where he advises them on the Technology Practice.

MORRISVILLE – Now that the election is over, President Elect Joe Biden has a chance to deliver on what President Trump had promised four years ago: more American Jobs, through an immigration policy that values global talent to meet the workforce needs of our state and nation.

The Trump administrations’  restrictions for H1-B highly skilled immigrants  has hindered our global competitiveness, and does have an impact on a number of industries in NC, including the tech, manufacturing, seafood and hospitality industries.  Let us also remember the 35,000 Dreamers in North Carolina, who bring in over $500 million to our economy, whose DACA status remains after a recent Federal Court ruling struck down recent Trump Administration restrictions on the program.

Photo courtesy of Steve Rao

John Chambers, left, with Steve Rao

As the U.S. works towards economic recovery, these immigrants are vital to supporting industries and communities when they need it the most. In fact, H-1B visa holders, one of the newly banned groups, are job creators — NAE’s research shows that every H-1B holder creates about 1.83 American jobs.

Our recent Space X missions to the International Space Station would never have happened if Elon Musk had not received an H-1B, Zoom would not exist, and many companies, like Google, Yahoo, would have been founded in other nations if we closed off immigration of highly skilled immigration to the United States.

I do believe that we are encouraging the best and brightest in the world to start companies in other nations with such a closed immigration policy coming from the White House.

First-hand impact

While many Americans continue to work remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, immigrant IT workers play an essential role in helping the U.S. economy move activities online and maintain the digital infrastructure so that businesses can keep running and people stay connected.

In North Carolina and much of the Triangle, I am still seeing firsthand, many Indian Americans and South Asian families affected by restrictions in the H-1B Program. These hard working, tax paying citizens  are among the 300,000 H-1B holders in the US are in line for a green card.

Some families are being separated, spouses of the H-1B visa holders are not able to work, and I am hearing from many constituents, who have been waiting over ten years, for a green card.   These are hard working tax payers, who are contributing immensely to supporting and creating the growing tech economy of North Carolina and the new jobs of the new economy.

Recently, I received a call from Anu Penenganti, a technologist at SAS Software, who pays twice the tuition for her daughter at NC State since her H4 visa in in backlog.  Sometimes, she wonders if she should eventually move to Canada, a nation where it is easier to experience the benefits of citizenship.

Thousands in NC are in this situation, most in the Triangle and Charlotte region.  Not only are they driving innovation and jobs at Technology companies, but also among the ranks of the 56,000 immigrant owned companies, employing over 151,000 citizens in our state.

University impact

Finally, Consider our universities. They’re a critical part of our economy, producing wealth, innovation, and skilled workers our state urgently needs. But in recent months the Trump administration had considered  blocking international students whose colleges switch to online teaching; to make it impossible for foreign students to complete PhDs; and to undermine the visas that allow U.S. businesses to hire foreign graduates with critically needed skills.

This type of action would have been a  disaster for North Carolina. Our state’s 21,954 international students inject $722.3 million a year into the local economy, supporting over 9,000 jobs. International students also make college affordable for Americans: though they account for just 4.6% of the student population, foreign students pay 28% of all college tuition. By hurting international students, President Trump is depriving our colleges of vital revenues, and ultimately hurting all North Carolinians.

Look at the numbers

Some statistics worth noting from New American Economy:

  • Nationwide, 1 in 4 information technology (IT) workers, or 1.2 million people, are immigrants. Among software developers, the most common IT occupation, nearly 40%, or 529,000, are immigrants.
  • Immigrants play an outsize role in the IT workforce across the country. For example, they make up nearly half of IT workers in New Jersey (47%) and California (44%), 28% in Texas, and 27% in Illinois.
  • The IT sector is growing fast in the U.S. economy. Between 2013 and 2018, the number of IT workers grew by 1 million, or 27%, to 4.7 million total.
  • Immigrants help ease America’s severe shortage of IT workers. In 2018, there were about 15 online job postings for each unemployed IT worker.

As we face huge public health and economic challenges, immigrants are on the front lines helping us respond to both. Yet even as they fight alongside Americans, they  are excluded from federal relief efforts (as are their U.S. citizen spouses), they are at risk of deportation if they are undocumented, and now legal workers that drive essential industries won’t be able to enter the U.S. to spur additional job creation and help drive the economic recovery.

Let North Carolina be an example to both President Elect Biden and Vice President Elect Kamala Harris, the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants, that comprehensive immigration reform can ensure that the United States is a destination for the best and brightest in the world to create more jobs now and in the future.

I strongly encourage President Elect Joe Biden to present an immigration proposal to the 117th Congress that accelerates the path to citizenship for highly skilled immigrants, extends protection for our Dreamers, and continues to address illegal immigration and border security in a reasonable fashion.